In Depth
Talker Discuss A History Of Downwards

Despite Downwards' long and esteemed history, the Karl O'Connor fronted imprint continues to champion debut projects year on year. In 2014 for example, the label released the first EP from Talker, a collaboration between two Chicago-raised artists; Karl Meier, and Jonathan Krohn. The 'Cut the Weight' EP and subsequent self-titled Talker LP charted a territory somewhere between downbeat techno and organically textured film-scapes, without losing Downwards' signature gothic aesthetic.

In their solo careers, Krohn and Meier have explored rather different pursuits however. Meier is best known for his leftfield DJ sets and longstanding involvement in the vinyl trade, while Krohn spent a number of years as part of Chicago post-rock group, Male. Alongside his endeavours as part of Talker, nowadays he also uses his experience in bands in his solo project Stave; an amp-driven and affront take on the noisier end of the techno spectrum.

With an upcoming live performance as part of the Downwards showcase coming up on June 18, we decided to catch up with the duo to discuss the show, working with Samuel Kerridge and how the project has been impacted by Meier's recent relocation to Berlin.

I hear you have a new EP on the horizon... A few years on from your last release can we expect a different sound from Talker? Do you have a pretty free reign with your work for Downwards?

Johnathan Krohn: The EP is something we have been working on for some time now... I wouldn’t say it’s a different sound, but maybe a continued direction of things we have been working on. It’s an extension of what we’re doing with the live sets as well. This release will be out on Downwards too. Karl (O’Connor) has always been very supportive and encouraging.

Karl Meier: The material reflects stuff we’d been working on for the live P.A - it’s just been refined and developed a bit more. Karl's always good about providing us with constructive criticism, which is great and always appreciated. But yeah, we generally have free reign to do what we want.

You've been friends since growing up in the same area of Chicago - is Talker the first project you've collaborated on together musically? Do you remember the first time you met?

Jon: Yes, this would be the first project we have worked on together. I was using the name Talker as a Stave demo for a while — and once Karl suggested we collaborate on some music together, I thought it would be a nice name for the project. It comes from the Chicago band U.S. Maple's record of the same name — which we are both fans of. We know each other from high school, and have been in contact ever since.

Karl: I’m not sure - but Jon was my brother’s best friend growing up, so he was always around! Over time, we found we had similar interests musically - it’s a bit crazy that it took so long for us to collaborate, but better late than never, I suppose.

Both of your releases have come out via Downwards - what were your first interactions with Regis and what appealed to you about releasing on the label?

Jon: The label and his work have both been very big inspirations for what I do musically. Karl (Meier) introduced me to the label back when it initially got going and I have always felt the releases to be challenging and forward thinking.

Karl: I met Karl (O’Connor) and Tony (Child) years ago, at separate parties in Chicago and Ohio. Downwards was always my favourite label, there was always a subversive quality to what Karl was doing, and it was clear that it was never meant to be just a ‘techno’ label, per se. It was obvious to me that there were these influences outside of the dance music that they were incorporating into the music, and I always found that tremendously exciting.

Karl - I read you relocated to Berlin fairly recently as your bookings in Europe have increased - has it affected the project now living so far apart? What is it you like about Berlin aside from the musical aspects?

Karl: Not so much, really, although we are still getting accustomed to the process - sending files back and forth and so on. It’s pretty common these days though - there are lots of people working this way, it would seem. Berlin is terrific - it’s nice to live in a city where you can exist on your own terms. Culturally, it’s really vibrant as well. I love Chicago - it will always be home, but after 20 years, it was time to move on and try something else.

"Downwards was always my favourite label, there was always a subversive quality to what Karl was doing" - Karl Meier

Jon: When we were living in Chicago, we would get together to work on material. When we travel, I often try to get to Berlin for a couple days so we can be in the same room to work on things.

Karl: It’s certainly a bit more efficient that way!

You're performing live at fabric on June 18, will this be your first visit to the club? When was the last time you were each in London?

Jon: For me, yes... The last time we were in London was a Talker gig at Corsica Studios for the Individual Collective guys - really great night - so we’re looking forward to being back.

Karl: I haven’t been to the club in 13 years, funnily enough. Where does the time go? There have been several memorable nights there for me though - seeing my old friend DJ Heather in the main room, Mark Broom, and Eon playing live too. I also saw John Peel play at fabric before he passed away. Probably the last time happy hardcore records got played in there I imagine!

What can people expect from your live show? Do you aim to recreate live versions of your released work or do your shows take a more freeform approach?

Jon: A bit of both, actually — we like to provide a set that has both new and previously recorded output mixed together in a fresh way.

Karl: Jon got bit by the ‘hardware bug’ as of late, so he’s been bringing some gear with him. It’s a hybrid performance with me on the laptop and Jon using hardware - I try to break the tracks down to their component parts and reassemble them, so we’re not just playing the studio versions of the tracks we’ve released. It keeps it interesting for us as well.

Samuel Kerridge is also playing who I believe collaborated with you on one of the tracks on your LP - how did that come about? Have you been following the movements of his Contort imprint/night with Hayley Kerridge?

Jon: Of course! Sam and Hayley are running a great label and the Contort night they were doing in Berlin was fantastic.

Karl: Yeah, Contort was a fantastic night - always fantastic to play that party. Jon’s known him a bit longer than I have actually - I just got to meet him and Hayley when we played Berlin Atonal last year, which was terrific. The idea to collaborate came from Regis honestly - but we were thrilled with Sam’s contribution... I think it’s one of the standout cuts on the record.

Is collaboration something that comes naturally to both of you or do you prefer working in isolation generally? You've both had experiences playing in bands in the past right - do you think this informs the way you work with electronic music?

Jon: I like working in both arenas. Having someone to bounce ideas off of is great. And since musically Karl and I come from the same kind of background influences-wise, it makes it a lot easier to collaborate.

Karl: What Jon said - I really enjoy the collaborative process. Things tend to happen that normally wouldn’t when you’re working on your own. I can’t speak to the latter, as I’m just a percussionist and a DJ - the lowest kind of 'musician'!

Finally, what's next for yourselves? Are there more shows planned following the fabric gig? Jon - I was a big fan of your Stave release on Repitch... Can we expect more material from the alias?

Karl: Hopefully, a solo release at some point - this summer, perhaps. I’ll be DJing in the States in July/August, and there will likely be some more Talker gigs later in the year.

Jon: Thank you! Yes along with this new Talker material I am finishing up two more EPs of new Stave material — as with the Talker stuff the goal for myself is to keep it evolving in some way — trying new approaches and ideas.

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